I Yam What I Yam!

poetrycoverContinuing to mark National Poetry Month with today’s post, I decided to address poetry specifically before eventually posting today’s poem. My new friend and fellow-blogger over at themaskedrabbitsblog posed a terrific question in her comment on my post from two days ago. (She also gave me a superb compliment − “I love your poems” − which of course is even more endearing!) I’m reproducing her comment below for your convenience in reading.

First of all, Bunny, it’s not a silly question and I appreciate your candor. (For readers who haven’t checked out Bunny’s blog, I love it! On the About page, Bunny describes herself as someone with “… a soft heart and a scratchy exterior.” Such refreshing honesty! That vulnerability runs through her posts and is conveyed via a warm and lively writing style.)

Where do I start with Bunny’s question? I begin with the exact time when I first learned to write (kindergarten? first grade?). The potential to communicate and choose particular words for the most precise meaning came to me early. Once I could move from verbal to written communication, I knew I’d tapped into POWER! There was a sense, a self-evident sense, that I am a writer. (“I think, therefore I am.” from my namesake, René Descartes.) In those elementary school years, I was already writing poetry, but I didn’t (at that time) consider myself a poet, just a writer.

By the time I reached high school, I had begun my first novel. I was a junior or senior when I participated with ten or twelve classmates in a Creative Writing class. It was an unusual class for the time because we weren’t required to stay in the classroom. As long as we were working on our writing assignments, the teacher gave us freedom to write wherever we chose. I continued working on my novel and other class assignments.

I took an extended hiatus from writing after high school, a period that lasted until after my children came along. I didn’t stop creating and there was always something to be written or edited, but mostly, I read, devouring stacks of books. When I nursed a baby, I’d hold the child with one arm and a book in my free hand. When the children were at T-ball, I’d sit in the bleachers reading a book. Many of the classics I hadn’t read during childhood were enjoyed while I was attending an event but free to remove myself mentally and concentrate on reading.

As the children grew, my longing to recapture my avocation resurfaced. At that point, I had ceased calling myself a writer; it was a hobby, a favorite pastime. This was mid-70s and through the 80s, a time when production and success established one’s bona fides. For a writer, production and success meant circulating multiple pieces to multiple publishers and actually being published. I could claim neither … so I accepted the conventional judgment, believing and admitting I wasn’t a writer.

But I knew in my heart I was.

Over the years, I did achieve publication in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I earned income doing free-lance work on assignment, submitting over-the-transom pieces from time to time, and I continued to work on personal projects. (There’s a concept from the dark ages! I’m not even sure writers make “over-the-transom” submissions any more!)

Turning a corner, in 2010 my younger daughter urged me to begin a blog (yes, this one). Previously, I’d avoided blogs with the excuse, “I want to r-e-a-l-l-y write, not just blog.” So my early efforts on this blog were half-hearted at best.

My daughter knows I’m a writer, just as I knew, but my production track record suffered hit and miss. At the time, I was mostly writing poetry and distraction came in a variety of ways. Further, only a few pieces of my poetry were deemed (by me) worthy of publication. I still didn’t think of myself as a poet.

Younger daughter and I often talk writing. (She’s talented and knows so much more than me!) We were talking poetry one day and I related to her my pleasure at having some focused writing time. I admitted a sense of inadequacy as a writer, because no matter how much poetry energized me, I told her, I’m not a poet! Without a moment’s hesitation, my daughter replied, “What are you talking about? I’ve always known you were a poet!”

Her words stunned me. Immediately, I recognized the truth of her statement, this daughter who somehow understands me better than I understand myself.

I am a poet! I AM A POET! I’d never have made that assertion a year ago. Yes, I’ve written plenty of poetry but rarely considered it worthy. (In truth, I have produced my share of drivel.) Still, I know with certainty that I’m maturing as a writer and poet. Even a subjective assessment tells me I’m a better poet today than I was a year ago … and certainly better than ten years ago. I’m comfortable today in asserting I am a poet.

Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned (only in the last year) is transparency, being open to invite others in, allowing others access to my poetry. That’s a huge step for me because I’ve spent my life wanting to be a home run hitter! Yet I’m forced to acknowledge the majority of my poems fall short. In a move that surprises even me, I’m posting poems I never intended to share!

Which brings me to this post’s poem, written in free verse with occasional rhyme. I was never able to craft this poem as I’d hoped. The nugget was there but it lacked … what?! Some quality I’m still trying to figure out!

Nevertheless, the poem addresses Bunny’s question. We set self-imposed limits on our art, including a reluctance to own the name poet. Have you been published? Is that the sine qua non for a writer? A poet? Who established that rule? Furthermore, why should we accept the rule as definitive?

Legacy

A book from 2011 was titled Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. While there’s little money in writing poetry, the first half of that title is an excellent guideline. Do you love writing poetry? Do it then. Develop your craft, strive to become the best you can be at it. Don’t concern yourself with labels. Eventually, someone will look at you and exclaim, “You’re a poet!” You can smile back and nod, “Yes, I am.”

An insistent little voice in your head will add:  “See? How could you ever have doubted?”

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Not In My Backyard!

NPM1Are you ready for a Frivolous Friday? To continue my observance of National Poetry Month, I chose a more lighthearted poem for today’s post.

Earlier this week, my daughter-in-law had placed an old claw-foot bathtub in front of her business with a FREE sign attached to it. When she first found the tub (early in her marriage), she was excited to purchase it for a hefty sum and hopeful she’d eventually find a house where she could use it in her decor. For several years, the tub sat in our barn but then she hauled it out to use as an front-porch fixture at her vintage store.

As the years have gone by, the heavy porcelain tub became less of an interesting fixture and more of an annoyance, so she finally decided she’d had enough. Once she turned the item into a freebie, a number of locals expressed hopes to claim it but the tub’s weight meant whoever claimed it was going to need a truck and some strong backs in order to haul it off. Thankfully, it was gone when DIL arrived at her shop on Monday morning.

I’ve posted before about what I consider the absurdity of yard and garden ornaments that were once fixtures inside someone’s house. Today’s post approaches this oddity with a different spin than the February 2nd post. (If memory serves me, Bowl Role and this poem were written about the same time.) I’m still astounded at the creative repurposing of these items … and how people proudly show off their creations! I guess it beats disposing the fixtures at the landfill … but it still seems slightly tacky to me.

BasinInnovation

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Dancing With A Dying Muse

The number of websites devoted to poetry runs in the millions. To date, I haven’t browsed through even 1% of such websites, but keeping in mind this is National Poetry Month, I’m usually interested in perusing poetry sites to read their unique presentations. (Many don’t translate well into English which limits my ability to enjoy them!)

MarksQuote

The above-pictured quote, however, didn’t come from a poetry website. I happened across this comment on Twitter first and because the quote intrigued me, I Googled it. Mr. Marks is an author, investment guru and CEO for Oaktree Capital Management … not exactly a person whose comments I would expect to touch on poetry.

Tweet 2014-04-10_1824

From what I can tell, this quote is an expanded version of a Confucius quote, with Mr. Marks having added the last four words. Though I would not pretend to consider my poetry great, I’m curious to know what this man considers “great poetry.” Is there a specific definition? As I wandered around the web attempting to locate a Marks-provided explanation, I failed to find one.

As with the definition for beauty, the essence of great poetry is, in my view, in the eye of the beholder. I think there’s some agreement regarding the poetry of Shakespeare and Donne and Poe and Frost and Wordsworth. (I could go on, but you get the picture.) What strikes me about all these poets is their poetry has survived over time. Is survival the key component that makes them great?

I happened across another blog post that intrigued me. The post was titled How To Write Good Rhyming Poetry. Notice, the title doesn’t proffer a possibility of writing great rhyming poetry, just good. Nevertheless, I bit, and found the post writer offered some excellent observations.

The post begins on something of a down note though, as the writer states:  rhyming poetry when “not done right can be kind of annoying.” Yep. Quite true. Second point of discouragement:  editors of many literary journals “eschew rhyme.” True again. The coup de grâce comes later in the post:  “Rhyming poetry does seem to be a dying art.” Bulls-eye, no question.

Knowing what I know, I can’t (and won’t) argue with this writer’s perspective. But none of this will dissuade me from continuing to write rhymed poetry. (Truly, I don’t believe the blogger intended to dissuade anyone, simply to make the points about rhymed poetry.) Toward the end of the post, the writer states:  “The choice is yours.” Yep.

Today’s poem is … wait for it … a rhymed poem! Written many years ago, I never expected to find a place to use it, but this does seem the perfect spot. The poem appears to be a rebuttal to the aforementioned author of that particular writersrelief.com post, but that would be impossible since it was written long before I had access to the worldwide web.

I simply knew (way back when) that I was swimming upstream as a poet who enjoys (and writes) rhyming poetry. If rhymed poetry is a dying art … well … I suspect I’ll do my part to keep it on life support as long as I have the ability.

FlimsyWhimsy

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Goodbye … For Now

mamababyA young couple in our church recently delivered their first child only to give him up to death four short hours after he arrived. (I heard about their situation via our church’s prayer list. I don’t personally know them.)

Before this child’s birth, his parents had been alerted he suffered from a specific physical condition, Potter Syndrome. This is a condition about which I know very little other than what I’ve read on various medical websites.

These parents were relieved to know of their son’s illness before he was born. This knowledge allowed them to prepare themselves (1) to love on this child during the short hours of his life, and (2) to trust God to supply in abundance the grace sufficient for this trial. But their present grief is surely an overwhelming heartache. It is beyond my comprehension … and yet I grieve with them through their loss.

I would not wish to minimize the traumatic void this couple (and their extended family) will experience throughout the rest of their lives. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding describes such grief as “… orders of sorrow, any one of which alone would have wrenched us from our fragile orbits around each other.” A child’s death disorders the universe as nothing else can do. 

More than a decade ago, my eldest daughter miscarried what would have been her second child. At the time of that loss (a loss for all of us in her family), I wrote the sonnet below. Speaking directly to my unborn grandchild was an attempt on my part to grieve and set this event into perspective in my head and heart.

As in my sister’s death, based in my hope in Jesus Christ, I have assurance I’ll meet this child one day. Boy or girl, I’m confident this baby is safe in the arms of my Savior. Even in the loss of a child, that’s a hope we can boldly and thankfully cherish!

Although this sonnet has a somber tone, I offer it as another token for National Poetry Month. Because I believe goodbye in this world isn’t goodbye forever, I’ve posted the poem here not to engender sadness but rather to celebrate the brief lives of God’s children who are called into his presence … on a timeline different than what we mortals had considered appropriate. (I need to remind myself often:  God’s timeline is perfect.)

DearLittleOne

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More Crafty Than All

Without ever meaning it to happen this way, I’ve noticed an unintended theme cropping up in my posts. Two days ago, I wrote a post titled Aging Sucks. Other posts related to some aspect of aging have been posted here with regularity. Most of these posts have an original poem attached to them, and many of those poems offer a light-hearted approach to the topic of aging.national_poetry_month_slide

For day eight of National Poetry Month, I’ve chosen another poem from my personal archives. Yes, this poem is about aging and unless you’re twenty years or younger, I think you’ll identify with what I’ve written.

Hearing of the death of Mickey Rooney this week (at the age of 93), I contemplated what a nonagenarian’s attitude might be toward aging. To use a scientific term, they are (at that age) nearing the state of maximum entropy (death). When I hear the term being in God’s waiting room applied to people of advanced years, I flinch … not because I fear death, but because my mind brings up an unpleasant image of a physician’s waiting room where people are destined to interminable monotony and anxiety waiting to see a doctor. Ugh!

Am I obsessed with aging? It’s a fair question. Perhaps a better one to ask:  is our culture obsessed with aging? In my view, the answer has to be Yes! Whole industries are built around maintaining one’s youth. Businesses devoted to nip/tuck, paint/repaint, yoga/cardio/weight training activities proliferate our cities. Diet gurus, exercise coaches and health specialists have spread their doctrines to anyone paying the least attention.

Addressing my question (am I obsessed with aging?), I think the abundance of my poems pertaining to age and aging has come about because the subject is such a bountiful gold-mine to explore. I’ll not deny that as I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand more clearly how our bodies are designed to age and eventually die. When I write, it’s not unusual to find a new and different metaphor with which to dress this topic.

This particular poem leans on the image of a snake for its visual symbol of aging. Long after I originally penned the poem, I realized it’s a fitting symbol since aging and death were initially introduced to humanity through the crafty enticements of a Serpent. (Read the details yourself in Genesis 3.)

Snakebit

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Here Comes The Bride

After yesterday’s post, one of my friends commented about the resemblance between my mother and myself. When I was younger, I would not have considered that a compliment though over the years, I’ve realized how true it is … and I’m honored.MomGmaWest

Today, I thought an appropriate follow-up to yesterday’s post would be a few words about my mom’s mother. (Photo at right shows my seventeen-year-old mom standing with her mother on graduation day.) Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know Marion Ruth (Hoyer) West because she died before my second birthday. Although many of the women in her family lived into their eighties and nineties, Marion was a mere sixty years old when she died.

When I look at pictures of my grandmother, I’m often reminded of my mom’s facial expressions reflected in Grandma’s face. Today’s poem is something of a summary of her life:  born in 1890, she was nearly thirty when she married, her first child died in infancy and her husband died after less than thirteen years of marriage. (I suppose there would be a great deal of truth in granting that my mother probably learned her lemonade-making skills from her mother.)

The sweetest part of Grandma’s story (for me) is their wedding day. Proving their off-beat sense of humor, this couple decided to be married at their church’s annual Halloween party. No one besides the pastor and his wife knew about the wedding, so all their friends came to the party dressed in various and appropriate Halloween costumes. Of course, when Grandma and Grandpa arrived in a wedding dress and a tuxedo, everyone believed these were costumes. It was not until the pastor’s wife sat down at the piano and started playing The Wedding March that everyone realized something more than a Halloween party was taking place!

Recognizing another day of National Poetry Month, I give you my Ode To Grandma.

OdeToGrandma

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Aging Sucks

2014-04-06 10.06.38It’s always a special treat to spend time with my dear, sweet mother. In fact, I hated to leave this morning. As she draws nearer to her eighty-eighth birthday (this August), every day with her becomes ever more precious. The photo at left isn’t a great one; blame the photographer (me) … I snapped this shortly before heading out the door. I think she’s beautiful!

When we’re together, I try to get her talking about events from her earlier life. I’m so thankful she still has a good memory that hasn’t been ravaged by old-age senility! Despite her limited vision, she continues to have a zest for life and an interest in the world outside her door. Anyone who observes her would not be aware of her sight disability because she navigates well.

Still, it is a huge challenge for her everyday because society (by default) caters to sighted people, and she remains dependent on others for her comings and goings. For someone as fiercely independent as she’s always been, this involuntary dependency has been an adjustment. As for carrying a cane, she’s not inclined to cede another loss to old age, if she can avoid it!

Hearing loss is a more recent disability she’s learning to accept and address. An unfortunate byproduct of hearing loss, she’s told me, people tend to equate hearing loss with some degree of diminished intellect. Whenever people talk as though she’s not in the room, she is naturally hurt and offended. (I definitely understand how that would make her feel!)

As my mom’s second child, I’m privileged to have been a part of her life longer than my younger siblings. (Over the years, I’ve come to understand how one’s birth order can dramatically determine the level of insight that person achieves with one’s parents.) The things I’ve learned about my mom’s childhood and who she was as a young woman enable me to have a better understanding for the woman I know today. (If you care to read other posts I’ve written about her, there are more than a few. These are a good start: here, here and here.)

Watching my mom age, I’ve come to understand certain truths about aging. (I’ve used the most relevant one for my post’s title!) I’m not at the same stage she is, but as with concentric circles, there are parallels in our age-related sagas. (Search my blog and you’ll realize I’ve discussed this topic as well!) And honestly, I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter what stage of aging you’ve reached, aging is ultimately an insult! Borrowing from Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:8, “… it was not this way in the beginning.” (God’s original design didn’t include aging or death.)

If I must grow old, though, (and God willing, I shall continue to do so), my hope is to grow old emulating the beauty and grace my mom lives out everyday. Her life has never been perfect … I think she learned early any illusion of perfection would be a foolish expectation. In some ways, she’s lived much of her life making lemonade from whatever lemons were dropped on the front step … no complaints, no whining, just an affirmation to press forward.

The poem below addresses aging, but more in relation to my Beloved (and myself). It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at aging, with a heavy dose of poetic license (for instance, neither of us has dentures and we didn’t know each other when we were fifteen). As to the photo, well, my Beloved is much better looking than the cartoonish guy pictured and I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d rather grow old!

TruthOnYouth

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